More on Rev. Dr. W. Lee Spottswood

Two years ago, I wrote about Rev. W. Lee Spottswood, a Methodist preacher from the 1800s. Spottswood served here in Clearfield 1858-1860. He wrote a book about his life in ministry called, Brief Annals, in 1888 (thankfully, it’s not too brief).

My previous post focused on his experience in Clearfield, but after reading the rest of the book, I want to share some highlights from the other parts, as well. The book is fascinating from the perspective of Methodist history as well as Pennsylvania history and Civil War history.

Spottswood was born in Carlisle, PA. When he was “a student,” he became a Christ follower at a nearby camp meeting after being “strangely warned of God in a dream” the night before (4). Spottswood writes …

When the invitation was given to seekers to come forward to the mourners’ bench, I said to a friend, ‘Come, let us go.’ We went, though, I had no feeling. I sought earnestly for pardon, and, after a long and hard struggle, I found peace” (4-5).

In 1849, Spottswood moved the Lexington, VA. Things were heating up as the nation moved toward civil war. Spottswood was clearly a Northerner; he says he was “loyal.” Serving in Virginia, at the time, was no easy task. He often refers to Southerners as “seceders” and “rebels,” calling the war itself “the rebellion.”

He mentions a visit by Stonewall Jackson …

The controversy … culminated in Lexington in the old Methodist Episcopal Church there. The chief citizens came in crowds to hear it—among them Major Jackson, then a professor in the Military Virginia Institute, and afterwards the famous General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson. (92)

In 1851, after a tumultuous time in Virginia, Spottswood moved to Huntingdon, PA. Years later, Spottswood served in Lewisburg as the Civil War came to an end. He reports …

Richmond, Va., fell April 2d, 1865, and Gen. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, April 9th. The aegis and starry ensigns of the Republic were everywhere dominant, transports of joy filled the land, and a nation’s laurels crowned the head of Gen. Grant, the conqueror of peace. (233)

Spottswood had high regard for President Abraham Lincoln. On Lincoln’s assassination, Spottswood writes …

But how soon was the nation plunged from the very height of joy to the profoundest depth of grief. On the night of the 14th of April, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, a young actor, shot President Lincoln in Ford’s theatre. (233)

Spottswood reports on what it was like in churches at the time of Lincoln’s death …

On Sunday morning ‘from every pulpit in the land came the voice of lamentation over the national loss, and of eulogy to the virtues of the good President, who had been so cruelly murdered;’ and the pulpit of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Lewisburg was not an exception. (234)

Later, Spottswood reports that he was invited to make a speech at the dedication of an auditorium. There, he referred to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address …

I spoke of that speech as destined to be a classic, in the English language, that would live and be remembered and quoted when the great oration of Mr. Everett would be forgotten. (274)

He was right.

Spottswood offered an opinion on the itinerant system used by Methodists. He spoke of his disappointment in leaving Huntingdon …

I fully expected to stay. My removal was a sore blow to me, and also to my wife. Her brother—not a member of the church—said to her: ‘Why, Lucy, I was under the impression that you thought the Lord did all these things.’ She answered him, with tears in her eyes and indignation in her voice: ‘O, the Lord had nothing at all to do with it; it was all the work of the old Presiding Elders.’ ‘There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip’—in the Methodist itinerancy. (122-123)

Spottswood mentioned a camp meeting in Warriors Mark, PA. He said this “camp-meeting was rendered notable by the presence of two personages from New York City, viz, Mrs. Phoebe Palmer, the authoress, and her husband” (145). Phoebe Palmer is a well-known name, particularly in the holiness tradition of the Methodist movement. Spottswood notes, “The people hung enraptured on her lips” (145).

Well, there’s a lot of great information and reflection in the book. I’ll mention one last bit of reflection that caught my attention. In addition to pastoring churches, Spottswood also once served as president of Dickinson Seminary (now Lycoming College). In 1866, he was appointed as a “presiding elder” (i.e., district superintendent) of the Bellefonte district.

Spottswood described his years as a presiding elder, rather humorously, saying …

[W]e, free from pastoral care, and not troubled about such questions as these in connection with a parsonage,—Who hacked this? Who sawed that? Who broke this thing? Who soiled, tore, or smashed that?—we spent some of the happiest years of our ministerial life. (238-239)

In Brief Annals, Rev. Dr. Wilson Lee Spottswood left us a fascinating look at the life and times of a Methodist preacher in the mid-1800s!

2 thoughts on “More on Rev. Dr. W. Lee Spottswood”

  1. Randy,
    An interesting reading no doubt. As to his reference of the Civil War as the “rebellion”, I think that was the view of the North at that time. When I worked in the college library at Truman State (MO), I came across a series of official government documents that referred to the Civil War as the “War of the Rebellion”. So Reverend Spottswood’s comment would fit the times.

    When he pastored in Virginia, was the church part of the M. E. South group or had it stayed within the M. E. structure? One would think that, coming from Pennsylvania, that the Virginia churches had not yet left the overall structure. Interestingly enough the Methodist Church that I belonged to when I was at Truman was a M. E. South church though it was in the very northern part of Missouri and only 40 miles or so from Iowa.

  2. Tony, thanks for the comment, and the perspective!

    The church Spottswood served in VA was not the M.E. South, but I believe there were factions. For example, it was the custom of the day for the pastor to stay in the parsonage until the new pastor arrived so that the Southerners wouldn’t take possession of it.


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